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The Great Adventure of Raising a Family in Another Country

In April 2014, my wife and I were in Paris for our honeymoon when we met a couple who gave us a tour of the city and got us into an exclusive restaurant. The couple who hosted us spoke six or seven languages combined, and had lived all over Europe, in parts of Africa, and the Middle East. The next day while walking the city streets, my spouse and I reflected that when we have children we want them to be at least bilingual and live in different cultures. However, shortly thereafter life happened and in January 2015 we welcomed our first child. Subsequently, over the next five years, we had four more pregnancies and three children. 

We kept the bilingual dream alive by initially enrolling the children in Mandarin immersion educational daycare programs and then we shifted to Spanish immersion academic environments but it still was not going as planned. We hired bilingual childcare providers as well, but it's hard to get maximum exposure for your kids while living in Baltimore. Our family and friends grew tired of hearing us talk about wanting our kids to be bilingual and possibly living abroad in Central America or East Africa. Then Covid happened and the world changed. We pulled the kids out of private immersion virtual school and placed them in virtual public school. To supplement language we did virtual classes three times a week for the oldest two with a gentleman in Spain. 

In later summer 2020, we agreed that we were not having any more children. I took proactive healthcare measures; it was time to go. Next, we quietly started planning our escape. But to where? My spouse diligently researched countries in Central America. We went back and forth about locations. We previously had visited Panama, and knew that was not the vibe we were going for. Nicaragua is beautiful but we read some challenging ex-pat stories. We also heard that Guatemala was a lovely country but we truly wanted to be on the coast. Ultimately, we decided to move our family of six to Costa Rica, a country we had never visited. We chose the Pacific Coast because of the beaches, proximity to an international airport, and the schools. We heavily considered the Afro-Caribbean part of the country but the school system and infrastructure were not developed enough for our virtual work needs. We have visited the Atlantic Coast (Afro Caribbean) and it is marvelous. We often talk about ways we could make living there work. 

Living in Costa Rica has been a great adventure. We chose an immersion international school that all four of our children attend. We are in our second house. The first was an Airbnb but now we are in a long-term rental. We have created positive relationships in both communities. Also, one of the coolest things is that the culture really embraces family and community in this country. For example, our children have health insurance coverage included in their school tuition. In addition, we have a family healthcare plan to cover everything else. It has come in great use. In late May, my spouse had to have emergency gallbladder surgery. She was evaluated and underwent a laparoscopic procedure for a fraction of what it would cost back home. Our Expat and Tico community rallied around to support us. I was traveling in the United States when all this occurred.

Every rose has its thorns as well. The cost of certain groceries is very high. Administratively, handling business can be very difficult, traveling within the county can take a VERY long time, and there is nothing like being on a Zoom work call when there's a power outage. However, the tradeoffs are invaluable. Morning beach walks before school, turning to our seven-year-old son to translate for us, being one of the only American families at a children's fútbol match, enjoying fresh fruits, and embracing the Pura Vida lifestyle has been a welcomed transition. 

In the course of two years, I was robbed twice in Baltimore City. I was constantly dealing with stress, making poor eating choices, and I was not always present at home. Here, I have been able to cut out a lot of distractions. I am laser-focused when I work, but when work is over I enjoy time with family and friends. I am not caught up in the news cycle; I am not on social media as much. I missed 98% of professional and college sports, but I'm good with that. I am present here.

The other shoe to drop is that I do not generally encounter discrimination or racism in my daily interactions. It's a very freeing feeling. I'm not part of the majority culture but I feel like I am valued not just by my cultural community but by all people in this amazing place. Most ex-pats I have relationships with, see me as me. Of course, there have been times when tourists brought negative energy and some ex-pats keep it going but here I made a choice to surround myself and our family with reciprocal positive energy. 

We recently committed to staying another year in Costa Rica. My spouse and I both work remotely coupled with real estate investments, once to twice a quarter we both have to travel back to the US, but beyond that, we are here or traveling somewhere in Central America. We have recently started discussing East Africa again, so the children can learn French and be in a place where they are the majority. For now, we are unsure. Stay tuned.

André Hammel is the founder of www.Biadvo.com He lives in Matapalo Costa Rica with his wife and four children.

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